This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
OK, first let me say that this is my first posting, and yes, it’s a dissenting one and long. Maybe should have broken it up, but I didn’t because so many negative words have been written about the Xbox One that I felt some healthy debate is needed.
Console gaming has evolved over the years into four main components that are equally crucial to a good experience: hardware, games, culture (this includes used games, online play, and so forth), and extras. I will attempt to outline here why Microsoft has made the right decisions (mostly) in each category.
First up: hardware. By now, most people are fully aware of the specs of both systems: Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. If you’re not, then you just woke from a coma and should probably be learning how to walk and eat again. Both systems are near enough alike that, at least for the near future, the games will remain indistinguishable from one another. (Hey, even the consoles themselves look very much alike.) That will change in time. In fact, when the first-person shooter Titanfall releases, we’ll get our first glimpse of what the addition of 300,000 servers and cloud can do. That’s THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND servers working for the benefit of Xbox One and Xbox Live. I cannot stress enough how much of a game-changer this may be. Developer Respawn Entertainment has said that it will use them as dedicated servers and for computing power. Racing game Forza 5 will also use the cloud for various tasks. Once developers become more familiar with and start offloading work to the cloud, the possibilities will be huge.
The biggest differences in hardware between the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are the controller and Kinect. For me, the controller is a big deal. I have participated in many marathon sessions of gaming with friends, and because of these experiences, the Xbox 360 controller has always been superior in my opinion. The reviews of the new Xbox One controller are all unanimous in their acclaim. One thing I would add is that the new controller uses 802.11 to communicate with the console, not Bluetooth, which only makes it easier (I assume) for higher bandwidth and allows for true (not simulated) wireless surround sound in headsets.
Then there’s the Kinect — yes, I said it. This is a benefit. Resist all you want, but Microsoft has finally made this thing useful by all accounts. Personally, I will be using mine. Why? Simple: While not fat, I am lazy. While lying on the couch one evening, I had no success finding anything on 480 channels of television programming that won’t make me vomit. I decide to switch to Netflix so I can stream through the entire season of House of Cards. Now I will be able to just say it, and it will happen. (Godlike powers for 100 bucks? I’m thinking the ladies are gonna love that one.) Even better, since the Kinect can recognize people, how about if it just automatically starts streaming Twilight or The Notebook when a certain person enters the room with me. Hey, Microsoft! Be a pal and make that happen.
Seriously, though. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this month, we saw some very limited but handy uses of the Kinect in the action-adventure game Ryse: Son of Rome. I also remember reading somewhere that if you happen to be sneaking around in Dead Rising 3 and you begin talking your Kinect, the zombies will hear you, too. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it is new.
One more thing on hardware: The buzzword out there now is “second screen.” Microsoft has thought of an even better solution: SmartGlass. I don’t know how many of you noticed, but in those demos of Battlefield 4 and The Division, there were players using SmartGlass via tablets. I already have one as do many other people. You can even use SmartGlass with your phone although I’m not sure it will be as functional as the tablet version. But I love this idea.
Culture: OK, this is a big one. First off, let me say that all the furor over the new policies — used-games restrictions and Internet requirements — would end up becoming industry standard eventually. Why? The simple answer is money. It always comes down to this, and the fact of the matter is that there are too many developers going out of business or suffering mass layoffs for things to continue the way they are. It’s just not sustainable.
As far as the check-ins once per 24 hours go, I’m OK with this as well. It’s high time someone stepped up and put something in place that will at least slow one of the biggest problems facing the industry: theft. I am speaking from personal experience on this one. I have had my house robbed three times in the past three years. Twice robbers have taken TVs and a few other things, but in all three cases, they have stolen my console and all my titles (except for X-Men Origins: Wolverine for some reason). Before you say it, I don’t live in an especially bad neighborhood; alarms don’t work. The simple fact is that I’m just away from home for too long too often. Now, losing a console is bad enough, but when you consider that I’ve had more than 30 titles stolen, believe me, it adds up fast.
So now comes Xbox One with its new policies. I look at it this way: If the day-one digital downloads work as planned, I’ll never buy another disc again. Let’s see ya steal that, Douchey McStickyfiingers. If a console is stolen, it’s only going to be useful if it checks in once per day, at which time Microsoft can brick it. The way things are now, thieves can easily resell or pawn any hot items they may have. Once the new system is in place, word will get around fast that a stolen Xbox One and its games are unusable. So for me, this is a great thing.
As far as theft goes, there is another kind: piracy. The day a game goes on sale (and in some cases before), there are thousands of illegal downloads of that game. Right now, there is no check in place to prevent people from running these titles on a console that is modified and offline. Yes, eventually people will crack the new system to get around it, but at least for a while piracy will slow.
In short, if you are a “gamer” and love playing games like I do, then the really smart thing to do is embrace the new policies. Seriously, in the end, they will only benefit us as gamers. Think about it. You can still share your games with your friends and family. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, you can now share your games library with friends or family without signing in or even using the same box. So if I buy Minecraft and my daughter, who is away at college (yep, I’m that old), wants to give it a try, all she has to do is log in and have at it. As far as I know, that’s unique for any system, including PC.
As far as selling and buying used games goes, that is up to the publisher. Believe me, this will be the same on both systems. If not, then in the end, I believe the advantage goes to the system that offers the best chance for a publisher to profit. Whichever system prevents profit loss will in the end be more attractive to developers and publishers, and that is where you will see the better exclusive third-party games. Renting games is a touchy issue. One thing that this does that needs to be curtailed is it props up poorly made games and developers. Yes, I believe that. Like movies, there are good ones and bad ones. Right now, you can pay full price for those titles you know you want, or you can rent the ones you are iffy on. This creates a niche market of low-budget, poorly made games that probably should never have been created– much like the Syfy channel movie on my TV right now. What we have right now is an environment that allows for and actually encourages mediocrity. What we need is an environment that gets the really great gamemakers paid and the mediocre to die off.
Extras: OK, here we go. This is where I think Microsoft went awry with the way it announced the reveal and then hit E3 with everything else. It should have led its reveal with games, games, and more games. Then people would have been wowed with what they saw and been blown away with all of the other things they would have learned about at E3, such as Skype, multiwindow functioning, and HDMI passthrough. Instead, it was like biting into scrambled eggs and getting a mouthful of shell. From that point on, either you just don’t want anymore or every single bite after is taken with trepidation and negativity. No matter what anyone in marketing thinks, it really is the games that are going to sell this thing at first. The best advertising is word of mouth — that always has been and always will be. And it will only happen through gamers.